David Kohler, CEO of Kohler Corporation, spoke at the College of Business Administration’s Business Leaders Forum last Thursday. The event was open to Marquette University students, faculty, staff and community members.
The Business Leaders Forum began at Marquette in 1999. In the past, keynote speakers included business leaders from nationally-recognized companies like General Electric and Best Buy.
“It started 19 years ago through the encouragement and a gift from Frank and Kathleen Thometz,” Brian Till, dean of the College of Business Administration, said. “They were interested in setting up a series through the College of Business that would bring in CEO-level accomplished speakers that would then share their insights and experiences with Marquette students, faculty, staff, but also people from the community.”
The Thometzes are both Marquette alumni.
Till said each year there is a small committee in the College of Business Administration that brainstorms potential guests for the Business Leaders Forum. The committee first suggests names then identifies a smaller number of people that would be “most attractive and appropriate for the series” and the connections they might have with the university.
“He’s a little further north, but he knows Marquette,” Till said. “We have a good relationship with the Kohler Corporation, and so that was an easy contact to make, because of the relationship the university has with the company.”
Till mentioned the appeal not only to business students but those looking to start their own businesses or become leaders in their individual fields, as well as community members.
“I think folks from the community recognize how successful Kohler Company has been and how important the Kohler Company is to the Wisconsin economy,” Till said. “I think they would find his remarks to be interesting and valuable.”
Till said he believed there were many different things those in attendance could learn and benefit from.
“I think different people will get different things (out of the event) depending on their own perspective, but really a sense of some personal insight into the journey that the speaker, and perhaps a nugget or two of leadership perspectives,” he said. “Really just to understand a little bit better the journey that the speaker has been on in his professional life and a couple of concepts that can be generalized to our own particular leadership journey.”
David Kohler spoke in detail about his company, its history, and its pursuits and ambitions. He also shared what he thought to be essential leadership qualities.
“We believe first of all that not all leaders are cut from the same cloth. We find these qualities in many of the great leaders in our company. They have imagination, courage, they take initiative and they can build strong teams,” Kohler said. “We can’t achieve anything unless we bring an organization with us, and we need to make sure we build an organization that’s not afraid to fail, because we can’t be entrepreneurial if we are afraid to fail, and that’s tough to encourage the organization to continue to take risks in the face of failure.”
Kohler said the company believes character determines destiny.
“It’s about ethics and integrity,” Kohler said. “It’s foundational for our company.”
He said he believes good leaders have passion, energy and drive and are self-driven, externally focused, candid and can think independently.
Kohler invited students to explore Kohler Co. from a career standpoint in the future.
“We have talent opportunities all over the world, including here in Wisconsin,” he said.